CEJ co-hosts Rights of Nature sessions at World Social Forum in Canada

On August 11, 2016, CEJ co-hosted two sessions at the World Social Forum in Montreal.


CEJ, as a member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature,  joined other prominent advocates of the Rights of Nature movement on Wednesday.

The two events, entitled "A World in which Nature has Rights," and "Rights of Nature Forum," explored global movements aimed at creating a new legal framework that extends legal standing to nature. Here's an abbreviated overview:


The first session began with an opening prayer from guest Indigenous Leaders. Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN then provided the full room of attendees with an overview of the Rights of Nature movement.


Nati Greene of Ecuador followed, giving a hopeful yet realistic account of what the past few years have been like in Ecuador (since the adoption of rights of nature into their constitution). She explained that now people can prosecute those who kill panthers and pollute streams. She told the room about a lawyer who got into a boat and sailed out to serve fishermen who were shark finning. However, she also discussed the realities of a rights-based system as well; that the fight is not over once the rights are recognized. Rights are something that must continually be asserted and defended against.  She discussed the importance of the International Tribunals in spreading this awareness and how successful GARN’s three previous tribunals have been.

We are 70% water and Earth is 70% water. We are nature.
— Nati Greene

Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network then spoke from the indigenous perspective. He brought with him the symbolic braided sweet grass. This beautiful plant is used in prayer and as medicine. However, it is getting harder and harder to find in the United States. Tom explained that they now acquire it from their relatives in Canada, but he wonders how much longer it will be available there as well.

Our very own Margaret Stewart, Esq., Manager of our Programs and Operations, then discussed the practical application of rights of nature as it pertains to our current legal systems. She explained the problems with the current environmental regulatory system and used case studies from Pennsylvania and Florida to show how significant establishing legal standing for nature is. She discussed different legal theories that have started us down the road to a rights-based system, such as the public trust doctrine and the precautionary principle, but explained how formal, legal adoption of rights-based policies will address the lack of standing issue currently in our system.

Manari Ushigua, a Sápara leader, then discussed his people's experience in the Amazonian Rainforest of Ecuador. He shared how they live in harmony with Earth and how over-consumption and over-extraction are affecting that harmony.  He pointed out that Mother Earth will persevere and will survive whatever we do to her--she just may not include us in that survival.


Lastly, Pablo Salon explained that we must be fighting against anthropocentrism.  He also alluded to an interesting correlation between how we treat nature and how we treat women in society.

When discussing his work in attempting to prevent a mega-dam from being built in Bolivia, he conveyed the importance of grassroots efforts and how laws are only one piece of the puzzle. In Bolivia, he said, he has not experienced much success with relying solely on written laws. Instead, he said,  large grassroots movements are needed to support these changes.

The first forum ended with a lively discussion between the attendees and the panelists. The topics ranged from media attention around the tribunals, to concerns with the “rights based” approach, to strategic approaches to bring these concepts to local communities.

In the second session, the panelists primarily reiterated their earlier thoughts to a whole new, packed audience.

However, this time Maude Barlow, Canadian author and National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, joined the panel. She discussed the shortcomings in Canada’s water policies and the need to change to how we approach such regulations. She explained that she has spent many years fighting for people’s right to clean water. However, once that was adopted by the United Nations, she has since shifted her focus to the intrinsic rights of the water itself. Her experience has shown her that these two things go hand-in-hand--human rights and rights of nature.  As she stated, we need to stop worrying about treating water and start worrying about protecting it from the start.

The discussion that followed was just as lively and enthusiastic as the first. The attendees asked about additional rights of nature success stories and how to begin this fight (i.e. with other citizens, with government officials, on the local, state, or federal level?). As our team member, Margaret Stewart, answered, it really is all the above. Attaining rights of nature policies will ultimately be a multifaceted approach that will require both formal adoption of laws and governance systems, but also grassroots support to ensure that those rights are recognized and enforced.